‘Walk out on 77’ was the slogan. It was everywhere; on Twitter, placards, banners and signs. Every national newspaper of note, and some not of note, wheeled out their columnists to back the campaign, organised by Liverpool fans to hit back at their club’s decision to hike some ticket prices to £77 next season.
The idea was simple: leave your seat on 77 minutes. The result was effective, as around 10,000 did so. Many who stayed will have supported the campaign but, understandably, wanted to make the most of their already-expensive ticket. (Although given Liverpool let slip a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Sunderland, they probably wish they hadn’t).
Enough is enough, cried pundits, cried fans, cried football. The bandwagon was full to bursting.
But has it set off too late?
Forget walk out on 77... the tagline should have been walk out in ‘77. It was a different time, yes; Jimmy Carter was president, Apple Computers had just been incorporated, Pele was still enjoying his victory tour of America and Jim White’s yellow tie was still decades away from ruining football transfers for us all.
But some things never change; football fans were still being fleeced by hikes. In 1977, a season ticket at Manchester United cost £30, according to Reds website red11.org. The following season, it was £37.50; not a bank-breaking increase, granted, but an increase all the same, of 25 per cent. Liverpool’s £77 tickets are £59 this term - 30 per cent more.
The stat doesn’t excuse clubs milking their fans, but does maybe go some way towards understanding that it’s not a modern-day phenomenon. An ‘upper tier, centre upper back’ ticket at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium will set you back £97 for a Category A game, although members can secure their seat for a bargain price of £95.50.
Sheffield Wednesday’s controversial pricing structure at the start of the campaign revealed a ticket in the Championship could cost as much as £52, for a Category A* game. Even in League One, watching Sheffield United could cost as much as £29. The price of loyalty, folks.
Will it ever change? The die has been long cast and fans have taken it for so long, swallowing the garbage about matchday experience, ‘market forces’ and the need for them to compete in the transfer market for top players. To an extent, you can see the clubs’ point; players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez swap comfortable afternoons at Sevilla for Tuesday nights at Stoke because they’re well remunerated. Give clubs a share of an £8billion TV pot and that cash is only ever going to end up going one way. Stoke - yes, Stoke - spent £18m on Porto’s Giannelli Imbula this month; they also have more players who have won the Champions League than Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal put together, and one imagines Ibrahim Affelay and Xherdan Shaqiri weren’t attracted to the town because of a love of pottery.
They say he who pays the piper calls the tune, and we’ve all been dancing to Sky’s beat for longer than any of us care to admit. Every protest deserves our backing - £77 is too much for the average fan, for any football game - and the very fact that clubs thought they could get away with it speaks volumes. Put simply. how did it ever get to this point?
We complain about prices, and pay them anyway. ‘Football without fans is nothing’ isn’t strictly true; football, in the Premier League at least, will never be without fans. Don’t want your seat at Old Trafford, Anfield or the Emirates? Someone will. First-time tourist or dyed-in-the-wool superfan? The top clubs don’t care. A former regular at Maine Road or a fanatical TV supporter in Thailand?
Your money’s all the same to them.
Uli Hoeness may not be the best source of financial advice, given he’s preparing to be released from prison after being convicted of multi-million-Euro tax fraud, but he had it spot on when discussing Bayern Munich’s £104 season tickets.
“We do not think the fans are like fans, who you milk,” Hoeness, Bayern’s former president, said.
‘Football without fans is nothing’ isn’t strictly true; football, in the Premier League at least, will never be without fans. Don’t want your seat at Old Trafford, Anfield or the Emirates? Someone will. First-time tourist or dyed-in-the-wool superfan? The top clubs don’t care. A former regular at Maine Road or a fanatical TV supporter in Thailand? Your money is all the same to them.
“That is the main difference between us and England.
“We could charge more than £104, but what is £2m to us? But the difference between £104 and £300 is huge for the fan.”
On Tuesday night, fans at Bayern’s biggest rivals, Borussia Dortmund, planned to miss the first 20 minutes of their game at Stuttgart in protest at the expensive prices and threw tennis balls on the pitch. Standing tickets cost £15.
To their credit, German fans can sense the tide turning and plan to do something before the horse has bolted; in England, it has bolted down Anfield Road, picked up a half-and-half scarf and paid a week’s wages for a restricted view ticket.
The fans are fighting back. Let’s just hope it’s not too much, too late.